Germans have reacted with alarm to the new annual report on politically motivated crimes from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the country's domestic intelligence agency. According to the report, which was presented Tuesday in Berlin, there were 19,894 far-right crimes reported in Germany in 2008 -- an increase of almost 16 percent over the previous year.
The report also concluded that the number of neo-Nazis rose by 400 compared to the previous year to 4,800. However the total number of right-wing extremists in Germany -- a category which includes members of far-right parties and right-wing skinheads as well as neo-Nazis -- dropped slightly from 31,000 in 2007 to 30,000 in 2008.
Heinz Fromm, the agency's head, warned that a scene of 400-500 "right-wing anarchists" has emerged over the last two years, whose members deliberately seeks out violence at demonstrations.
Fromm also reported that membership in the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) declined slightly in 2008, from 7,200 to around 7,000 members. But Fromm rejected suggestions that the party's current financial crisis would lead to its collapse. The NPD is in dire financial straits due to, among other things, a €1.27 million ($1.73 million) fine imposed by the German government because of irregularities found in the party's 2007 financial statements.
Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who also spoke at the report's presentation in Berlin, rejected proposals to ban the NPD, saying that the legal obstacles to such a ban were high and there was a significant risk that an attempt would fail. A previous attempt to ban the party in 2003 collapsed when it was revealed that many of the witnesses for the prosecution, including high-level members of the NPD, were in fact government informants who had penetrated the party.
On Wednesday, German commentators were unanimous in their calls on the federal government to do more to fight right-wing extremism. However they also agreed that the numbers should not be seen as an indication that Germany as a whole is leaning further to the right.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Wolfgang Schäuble is right to say that calmness is a virtue. And he is also right when he calls for calm in the fight against the far right. The vast majority of the Germany population supports democracy. They don't allow themselves to be easily seduced by the enemies of the state; indeed, after the experiences of World War II, they belong to one of the world's most peace-loving societies. Yet, despite these accomplishments, it's hard not to be bothered by the almost accountant-like lack of emotion with which Schäuble delivers the Office for the Protection of the Constitution's report year after year. The rising number of far-right crimes and acts of violence calls for a bit more passion. Without it, it will be hard to reverse this horrifying trend."
"Given the current increases, it's no longer enough to just report figures on an annual basis. Nor is it enough to just carry on with the prevention programs which are currently run by several different ministries. What is needed is for the democratic institutions and parties to make their presence felt exactly where far-right ideas corrupt the minds of young people, particularly men -- in schools, youth associations and other recreational activities. We need concrete action and commitments. It's true that such things already exist, but these initiatives are far too few in number today."
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"In his presentation Tuesday, Schäuble rejected proposals to try once again to get the NPD banned. He correctly pointed out that the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe has set some very high hurdles that must be surmounted in order to make that happen. Another failure before the court would be a major embarrassment. During such a trial, the NPD could cleverly make its members look like martyrs and direct people's attention away from the party's massive internal problems."
"Almost everything points to the conclusion that the NPD is in decline. But it would be wrong to underestimate the dangers that could result (from recent far-right trends). The thinking of the members of the so-called 'free' and 'autonomous' scene is already becoming more acceptable in the impoverished regions of eastern German. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have been spreading with increased vigor since the beginning of the global economic crisis. But to assume from these facts that Germany is somehow heading 'right' would be nothing more than fearmongering. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution puts the figure of far-right extremists in Germany at 30,000, out of whom 4,800 are neo-Nazis. Germany's democracy can bear up against that many cretins."
The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:
"Things are very, very bad, the government says. It's the same thing it's been saying for years. With its usual flair for originality, the center-left Social Democratic Party calls for a ban on the NPD. And that -- supposedly -- would be enough. And now, given its financial problems, the NPD just might finish itself off without any outside help. But even if the NPD's coffers were full, you could expect politicians to do more than just nod their heads in worry."
"Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble gets all excited when it comes to things like amending the constitution to let Germany combat pirates. And, for him, deploying military forces within Germany is an urgent matter, just like rolling back data privacy protections to aid in the fight against terrorism. You would hope that he would bring the same zeal to the issue of far-right extremism -- and not just when it comes to gathering information and conducting surveillance.
"We already have programs for people who want to leave the far-right scene, social workers in depressed regions, teacher training and recreational activities to act as an alternative to the far-right scene. But, year after year, many of these programs just barely scrape by, and they always have to deal with the issue of whether they will still have their funding and if their staff will still have their jobs. This is precisely the place in which having some steadiness and continuity could play a decisive role."